Salt Lake County commissioners seemed determined Friday to decrease taxes for homeowners valleywide.
But that won't be easy, thanks to increases in two levies whose rates are set by the state. Commissioners ended their midyear budget session Thursday believing they had given a break to homeowners, but the state levies more than compensated for the reduction.As a result, elected officials and administrators were spending most of Friday morning thinking up ways to get around the increases so taxpayers at least can get a token break. The county has until a public hearing Monday at 10:30 a.m. to figure out a solution.
On Thursday, commissioners lowered the rates they control to a level slightly below that of last year, following a suggestion from Commissioner Mike Stewart, the only commissioner seeking re-election this year. The reduction was offset by increases in the state's tax administration and bond debt service levies.
As a result, despite the reductions made by commissioners, owners of a $60,000 house would pay $1.36 more per year under the new rate if they live in the unincorporated area, $1.63 more if they live in Salt Lake City or Murray and $1.45 more if they live in other cities. Owners of more expensive homes would pay more, while owners of cheaper homes would pay less.
The increase could have been greater if commissioners had followed advice given by County Auditor Craig Sorensen and raised all rates to levels certified by the state.
But commissioners seem determined to decrease taxes. By Friday morning, Commission Chairman Bart Barker was preparing a proposal he said would give homeowners a slight break. He said he found a surplus in the bond debt fund.
Stewart said the decision to lower the rates is not being made with an eye toward the election.
"This is consistent with our philosophy over the years," he said, noting the county raises taxes during prosperous years and lowers them during difficult times. "We may have to raise them (taxes) a little next year."
Stewart said the tax rollback was made possible by economic growth that was slightly better than projected, by an increase in money received from the state and by a collection rate that was higher than last year.
"We've always been conservative in our (budget) projections," he said.
Commission Chairman Bart Barker said he wants the commission to meet again soon to discuss what they would have to cut if voters pass several tax limitation initiatives in November. The initiatives, which are not yet officially on the ballot, would set lower limits on state and local taxes, forcing the county to reduce its budget.